Irvine is the author of more than 200 published papers, having worked in theoretical cosmology and in theoretical and observational studies of planetary atmospheres, and more recently using radio astronomy as a probe of interstellar and cometary chemistry. His accomplishments include formulating the Layzer-Irvine (cosmic energy) equation, the Hapke-Irvine description of light scattering from rough surfaces, and participation in the identification of some 13 new interstellar molecules and 2 new molecular species in comets. Irvine was recently a member of the Steering Committee of the IAU’s Division F, Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology (Japan), Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica, Optica y Electronica (Mexico); and is a past Chair of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.
Much of Irvine’s research in astrochemistry concerned organic molecules in space and in comets. Since such organic species include many molecules important in biochemistry and in prebiotic chemistry, this field is now considered to be part of astrobiology, the study of the origin and distribution of life in the universe. Following from this, Irvine currently is the co-chief editor of Springer’s Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, which is now in a second edition and is being regularly updated online.